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Poem by Mark Akenside

The Virtuoso; in imitation of Spencer's Style and Stanza

Whilom by silver Thame's gentle stream,
In London town there dwelt a subtile wight;
A wight of mickle wealth, and mickle fame,
Book-learn'd and quaint; a virtuoso hight.
Uncommon things, and rare were his delight;
From musings deep his brain ne'er gotten ease,
Nor easen he from study, day or night;
Until, (advancing onward by degrees)
He knew whatever breeds on earth, or air, or seas.

He many a creature did anatomize
Almost unpeopling water, air, and land;
Beasts, fishes, birds, snails, caterpillars, flies,
Were laid full low by his relentless hand,
That oft with gory crimson was distain'd:
He many a dog destroy'd, and many a cat;
Of fleas his bed, of frogs the marshes drain'd,
Could tellen if a mite were lean or fat,
And read a lecture o'er the entrails of a gnat.

He knew the various modes of ancient times,
Their arts and fashions of each diff'rent guise;
Their weddings, fun'rals, punishments for crimes,
Their strength, their learning eke, and rarities;
Of old habiliments, each sort and size,
Male, female, high and low to him were known;
Each gladiator-dress, and stage disguise;
With learned, clerkly phrase he could have shewn
How the Greek tunick differ'd from the Roman gown.

A curious medalist, I wot, he was,
And boasted many a course of antient coin;
Well as he wife's he knewen ev'ry face,
From Julius Casar down to Constantine:
For some rare sculpture he would oft ypine,
(As green-sick damosels for husbands do;)
And when obtain'd, with enraptur'd eyne,
He'd run it o'er and o'er with greedy view.
And look, and look again, as he would look it thro'.

His rich musaeum, of dimensions fair,
With goods that spoke the owner's mind was fraught;
Things ancient, curious, value-worth, and rare,
From sea and land, from Greece and Rome were brought,
Which he with mighty sums of gold had bought:
On these all tydes with joyous eyes he por'd;
And, sooth to say, himself he greater thought,
When he beheld his cabinets thus stor'd,
Than if he'd been of Albion's wealthy cities lord.

Here in a corner stood a rich scrutoire,
With many a curiosity replete;
In seemly order furnish'd ev'ry draw'r,
Products of art or nature as was meet;
Air-pumps and prisms were plac'd beneath his feet,
A Memphian mummy-king hung o'er his head;
Here phials of live insects small and great,
There stood a tripod of the Pythian maid;
Above, a crocodile diffus'd a grateful shade.

Fast by the window did a table stand,
Where hodiern and antique rarities,
From Egypt, Greece, and Rome, from sea and land,
Were thick-besprent of ev'ry sort and size:
Here a Bahaman-spider's carcase lies,
There a dire serpent's golden skin doth shine;
Here Indian feathers, fruits, and glitt'ring flies;
There gums and amber found beneath the line,
The beak of Ibis here, and there an Antonine.

Close at his back, or whisp'ring in his ear,
There stood a spright ycleped Phantasy;
Which, wheresoe'er he went, was always near:
Her look was wild, and roving was her eye;
Her hair was clad with flow'rs of ev'ry dye;
Her glist'ring robes were of various hue,
Than the fair bow that paints the cloudy sky,
Or all the spangled drops of morning dew;
Their colour changing still at ev'ry diff'rent view.

Yet in this shape all tydes she did not stay,
Various as the chamaelion that she bore;
Now a grand monarch with a crown of hay,
Now mendicant in silks, and golden ore:
A statesman, now equipp'd to chase the boar,
Or cowled monk, lean, feeble, and unfed;
A clown-like lord, or swain of courtly lore;
Now scribbling dunce in sacred laurel clad,
Or papal father now, in homely weeds array'd.

The wight whose brain this Phantom's power doth fill,
On whom she doth with constant care attend,
Will for a dreadful giant take a mill,
Or a grand palace in a hogstie find:
(From her dire influence Me may heav'n defend!)
All things with vitiated sight he spies;
Neglects his family, forgets his friend,
Seeks painted trifles, and fantastic toys,
And eagerly pursues imaginary joys.

Mark Akenside

Mark Akenside's other poems:
  1. For a Statue of Chaucer at Woodstock
  2. Ode 1. Allusion to Horace
  3. A British Philippic
  4. To The Honourable Charles Townshend: From The Country
  5. On Lyric Poetry

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